In high school I was a band geek. OK, not quite: I was never cool enough to make it into the inner circle of the Blackbirds Marching Band, and so odd duck that I was I'd be left flapping around on the outer margins of the football stadium bleachers while all the hilarity and revelry that a pack of gangly teenagers in polyester and feathery headgear can muster would carry on without notice of me and my forlorn little trumpet. I ain't saying you need to shed a tear or anything, but I did drop band hot potatostyle midsophomore year and switched to a cappella choir, became a theater fag, and found my badge to wear in the relentlessly status-conscious gauntlet that is the American high school. I never picked up that trumpet again.
Which I suppose means I might still be working through those high school slights every time I throw myself full force into the ecstatic horn frenzy of the Gomorran Social Aid and Pleasure Club, but what the hell. Add these East Bay bacchanalians to the serious brass lovefest being led by the likes of DeVotchKa, Beirut, and a Hawk and a Hacksaw, and I think I've hit just the therapy I need. Look around: suddenly trumpets, trombones, and tubas are the new guitar. Welcome back to band camp, I tell myself, only this time it's cool.
Let the healing begin!
And what better way to introduce our six romping, stomping Gomorrans than with a call for rejuvenation? The band name itself is a gospel to them, a platform from which to preach their party-as-catharsis convictions while shaking out some of the most deliriously crooked New Orleans ragtime you've ever heard. It's more than just a name it's a way of life.
"The funny thing is, the name existed for probably six months before we were technically even a band," chief songwriter and banjo-playing vocalist Beebe says, chuckling, at a Mission coffeehouse. (At the risk of provoking flashbacks of high school football coaches, members prefer to be called by their last names.) "My brother Adam created the concept, artwork, Web site, everything ... even had us all listed in the lineup before we'd even played a note!"
"Yeah, we each ended up finding out when we'd bump into a friend who'd say, 'Oh, I heard you're in a new band,'" tuba player Kirley says. "Eventually, we all discovered we were in a band together, so we figured, let's do it!"
In addition to Beebe and Kirley, four others learned of their band membership: Davis (trumpet, vocals), Lehnartz (clarinet, vocals), Knippelmeir (trombone, vocals), and Westbrook (trash drums). But before we leap to any Maurice Starrmastermind comparisons, a few facts: all six were already good friends who lived together, as they still do, in a house in Oakland. All were musicians who shared a passion for old-time sounds, particularly those blaring out of New Orleans. All of them have called the Crescent City home at some point. Putting together a band was a natural next step ... unless, of course, you're of a more spiritual bent and wish to call it destiny.
A kind of spirituality does figure prominently in the Gomorran ethic, albeit one that preaches the virtue of whiskey and encourages audiences to bear witness as well. Once a tent-revival level of rapture has been reached, Beebe invites members of the congregation onstage for faith healings, which feed the cycle of sin and salvation. "If I take in some sin, it's gonna get disbursed," he jokes, bandmates nodding to show they're willing to share the burden.
Judging from their recent self-released eponymous debut, bearing such a heavy load is not a problem.